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DUBAI: A senior United Nations official on Tuesday called for an independent inquiry into the death of an Iranian woman being held by the country’s morality police, as authorities admitted making arrests amid protests over the incident.

The woman’s death has sparked demonstrations across the country, including in the capital Tehran, where protesters chanted anti-government and clashed with police.

An Iranian lawmaker took a rare stance on Tuesday to criticize the controversial “morality police” after they protested the death of a young woman they had arrested, local media reported.

Public anger has been growing since authorities on Friday announced the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the police unit responsible for enforcing Iran’s strict dress code for women, including the wearing of the headscarf in public.

Jalal Rashidi Koochi, an MP, told the ISNA news agency that “Gasht-e Ershad is wrong because it had no result other than loss and damage to the country,” adding that “the main problem is that some people themselves refuse to accept this truth.”

Koochi questioned whether the current policy of enforcing these dress codes was effective.

“Do the people who are brought to these explanatory classes by the Guidance Patrol become conscious and repent when they come out?” said Koochi, ISNA reported.

The United States, which is trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, also condemned her death and called on the Islamic Republic to end its “systemic persecution” of women.

The UN Human Rights Office said Iran’s Morality Police have expanded their patrols in recent months, specifically targeting women for improperly wearing the Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab. Verified videos show women being slapped in the face, beaten with batons and thrown into police vans for wearing the hijab too loosely.

A similar patrol last Tuesday arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini and took her to a police station, where she collapsed. She died three days later. Iranian police have denied mistreating Amini and say she died of a heart attack. Authorities say they are investigating the incident.

“The tragic death of Mahsa Amini and the allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority,” said Nada Al-Nashif, acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Iranian government did not immediately comment on the statement, but previously criticized the work of UN investigators investigating human rights issues in the country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, said Amini “should be alive today”.

“Instead, the United States and the Iranian people mourn her loss. We call on the Iranian government to end its systematic persecution of women and allow peaceful protest,” he tweeted.

Iranian police last week released video footage allegedly showing the moment Amini collapsed. But her family says she had no history of heart problems.

Amjad Amini, her father, told an Iranian news website that witnesses saw her being pushed into a police car.

“I asked for access to (video) from cameras in the car as well as in the courtyard of the police station, but they didn’t answer,” he said. He also accused the police of not getting her to the hospital in time and said she could have been resuscitated.

He said he wasn’t allowed to see the body when he arrived at the hospital, but he did manage to catch a glimpse of the bruises on her foot.

Authorities then pressured him to bury her at night, apparently to reduce the likelihood of protests, but Amini said the family persuaded her to have her buried at 8am instead.

Kurdish woman Amini was buried in her hometown of Saqez in western Iran on Saturday. Protests broke out there after her funeral, and police fired tear gas to disperse protesters on Saturday and Sunday. Several demonstrators were arrested.

The protests spread to Tehran and other cities on Monday. A news website linked to state television said 22 people had been arrested at a protest in the northern city of Rasht, the first official confirmation of protest-related arrests.

State television showed footage of protests Monday, including images of two police cars with windows smashed. It said the protesters also set fire to two motorcycles and burned Iranian flags in Kurdish areas and in Tehran.

The state broadcaster blamed foreign and exiled opposition groups for the unrest and accused them of using Amini’s death as a pretext for further economic sanctions.

Iran has seen waves of protests in recent years, largely over a protracted economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions related to the country’s nuclear program. The authorities managed to use violence to put down the protests.


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